3 Weeks in Cambodia
I visited Cambodia for 3 weeks before I went on to Vietnam, and I would visit again in a heartbeat. The friendliness of the people who call it home with their smiles and respectful greetings, they are some of the most genuine people I have met, helping to make this one of my favourite countries. The best time to visit is November - April, although I travelled in May and was lucky enough not to get hit with much rain and as it was the end of their peak season most of the attractions were not packed with visitors.
The main gateway to Angkor Wat, we flew into Siem Reap from Bangkok and stayed in Suorkear Boutique Hotel and although I LOVED this hotel, I would probably recommend staying a little closer to Pub Street and Angkor Night Market as there is so much to do in that location.
As the world's largest religious monument, it enabled the Khmer to give full expression to religious symbolism. Angkor Wat is a complex of more than 1000 temples, shrines and tombs, I would suggest multiple visits to appreciate the magnitude of this site. Visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples Angkor Thom, Bayon etc and then visit Beng Mealea the second day.
We got a tuk tuk here from our hotel, the easiest way to get to the temples and for an extra $5 the driver will pick you up at 04:30 to get you there for sunrise. Dress code is strict and you should wear appropriate attire for visiting, shoulder and knees covered.
I like to take a traditional cooking class whenever I visit a new country, and as we had some spare time in Siem Reap we decided to take a class here, although I'm sure you can take one of these anywhere in Cambodia really. We made a herbal soup and the local dish ‘fish amok’, catfish covered in coconut sauce, with ginger, chilli, turmeric, garlic and lemongrass steamed in a banana leaf. If you don’t have time to fit in a cooking class, I highly recommend you try this signature dish at one of the many restaurants that serve it around Cambodia.
A non-profit organization founded by eight young Cambodian ex-refugees of the Khmer Rouge regime, performers use theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories about their lives and society. It is shown nightly and there are a few different performances, we actually went here twice we enjoyed it that much! The seats are pretty much served first come first serve basis per section so get here about half hour early to get the best ones. Even better, 75% of the revenue supports the free education and social support programs of a non-profit school, so whilst enjoying yourself you are also helping support Cambodian education!
Whilst here why not try the popular snack of fried tarantula?! Surprisingly chicken like, the sellers will suggest you eat the ‘juicy’ abdomen first! Or for the brave try the Bugs Café at Angkor Night Market for your appetising menu of ant spring rolls, silkworm croquettes or scorpion salad to name a few!
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Tuol Sleng & the Killing Fields
Prior to visiting Phnom Penh I had purchased a book regarding Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, in the hope I would be prepared for what I would witness, but nothing prepares you for a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, this harrowing experience remains a festering reminder for the Cambodians who survived the Democratic Kampuchea.
Tuol Sleng (also called S-21), was formerly a high school that the Khmer Rouge converted into one of nearly 200 secret prisons, where prisoners were executed for crimes they did not commit. Out of 14,000 people known to have entered, only 12 survived.
Killing Fields are dotted all over the country, with an estimated 1.3 million bodies in more than 20,000 mass grave sites. The largest of the killing fields is Choeung Ek, which you are now able to visit.
Although these are a very daunting to go and see, they also hope to serve as an educational tool to ensure history does not repeat itself.
Guides are not necessarily needed on these visits as you are able to pay for an audio tour with map, allowing you to wander around in your own time.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Tuol Sleng Prison
Sihanoukville + Koh Rong
To get to the idyllic island of Koh Rong, we chose to stay in Sihanoukville the night prior, probably not one of the main ‘tourist’ destinations of Cambodia but it was a good stop off so we were fresh the following day to get the ferry. We pretty much spent the day on the beach as other than a couple of restaurants there was not much else to do there.
The ferry to Koh Rong takes around 45 minutes on one of the five ferry companies that offer the service. There's nothing better than arriving at your destination and seeing clear blue waters either side of you. We stayed in White Beach Bungalows, a short walk from the pier and Koh Tuoch, the main tourist area. Beaches here are pristine, the waters warm and the sand powdery white. Beaches here offer a variety of activities such a snorkelling, diving, kayaking and windsurfing, or try hiking some of their rainforest trails.
Long Set beach is where we spent one afternoon and evening on a boat tour to see the bioluminescent plankton, (you can also see them from Police Beach on non-party nights). The tour is offered all through the day by vendors on the beach so there's no need to book in advance.
Police beach hold parties every Wednesday and Saturday and on a full moon.
I would also suggest visiting Kampot, known for its pepper plantations. We only had a short stay here but if time permits its worth seeing. Tours to the salt fields and pepper plantations, paddle boarding on the river or even a day trip to Rabbit Island, theres enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days.
You can fly to a lot of other Asian capitals direct from Cambodia, giving you chance to extend your travels if wanted. You will also need a visa to enter Cambodia from the UK so don't forget to get one before arrival!